The country can reduce more than half of its rice import bill, estimated at about US$600million yearly, if all irrigation schemes are brought to optimal operation, the Project Manager at Kpong Irrigation site, Joseph Nartey, has said.
He said there are currently 70 irrigation schemes in the country which – if revamped and farmers were given the right incentives – would be enabled to allow cultivation of the crop at least twice a year to cater for a greater percentage of domestic rice demand.
“If we can concentrate on irrigation and bring all the 70 irrigation schemes to optimal operation, it will enable farmers to produce at least two times in a year. If we are able to do this, I think we will be able to meet more than half of our demand,” he said.
Mr. Nartey spoke during a media trip to the Kpong Irrigation site in the Eastern Region, which is receiving support from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
He indicated that the Kpong scheme, although not operating at full capacity, produces 36,000 metric tonnes of rice annually.
Aside from meeting an appreciable percentage of domestic demand, a well-run irrigation system will create thousands of jobs and also ease pressure on the local currency – which is depreciating significantly partly due to the country’s high rice import bill
Despite having the right climate and soil to produce enough rice for domestic consumption and export, the country continues to spend over US$600million yearly on importing the grain, which has become a staple food for Ghanaians.
The domestic rice industry, according to players, is faced with multiple challenges including high cost of production, poor storage and processing, and lack of mechanisation.
For instance, he said, the Kpong project which covers about 3,000 hectares with a similar number of farmer population, has only 20 power-tillers. Ideally, he said, it needs least 30 of such power-tilling machines.
Additionally, factors such as under-valuation of imported rice and smuggling make foreign rice cheaper than the domestic ones – and this makes local rice uncompetitive.
“During the minor season, we are unable to farm because we have not received money from buyers/aggregators – who sometimes buy on credit. But if government can guarantee us a market this will not happen, and we will be able to produce throughout the year,” he noted.
On whether rice importation should be banned, Mr. Nartey responded in the affirmative, saying: “If government can ban importation of rice, it will make the market available and we will be ready to produce more”.
The Ghana lrrigation Development Authority (GIDA), with technical support from JICA, is implementing a five-year programme dubbed ‘Enhancing Market-Based Agriculture’ by Stakeholders and Private Sector Linkages in Kpong Irrigation Scheme (MASAPS-KIS Project).
The project runs from 2016 to 2021, and seeks to improve farmers’ yield through the use of right agronomical practices.
“We have been working with JICA since 2016 on the MASSAP, which is to ensure that our rice yields are increased across the board,” Mr. Nartey said.
Before JICA’s intervention, he said, yields were around 3.4 tonnes per acre; but now the farmers are able to produce 5.6 tonnes.
The MASAPS project, which includes provision of technical and extension services to farmers, seeks to increase production in irrigation schemes.